The league had its first slate of conference games. We ranked the teams headed into league play so we are basing our rankings on that baseline. There was a little bit of movement but nothing crazy. As usual, we are ranking the teams using the nebulous concept of “power” which means we don’t put a premium on the records. We do not even overly consider head-to-head if we think the win/loss was a fluke.
Here is the power rankings, followed by some superlatives.
1. WKU 8-3, 1-1
The Hilltoppers played two tough games against a good squad in Charlotte. The pack-line defense from the 49ers 1 made WKU work for their stuff. Western has a solid offense with lots of talent. WKU had to lean on Dayvion McKnight for buckets at times — seriously, there were some acrobatic scores from him when the offense broke down — and by day two they realized they needed better execution. This was a split, but WKU is still the best team in this league and this weekend made them better.
Last week: 1st
2. La Tech 8-3, 1-1
Tech had figured out Marshall for most of two games. Kalob Ledoux was basically a no-show over two games and Tech had won day one, and was up 17 in day two. Unfortunately it all collapsed as Marshall proceeded to figure out their offense. Why are we still ranking Tech so highly? Well they ended the weekend with a 102.2 offensive rating. They had Marshall hemmed up and looking for help and then they helped them by going small and thus going away from what worked. Kenneth Lofton sat for the entire comeback and by then Marshall had their groove. It is true that Tech plays much better at home 2 and so we have to consider that fact in how well they played but these are just power rankings and have little-to-no meaning. I liked a lot of their defense and the offense was getting balanced scoring until they fell apart. That can be fixed.
Last week: 5th
3. Marshall 7-2, 1-1
The Herd ran into a wall for a time but showed why they had some hype entering conference play: they have offense (again) but the defense was looking stout. Against Tech (which helped by going small and looking lost) they battled back into the game with tough defense when it mattered. They have length and good IQ and supported that work with some timely shot-making. Taevion Kinsey can score from nearly anywhere, and got some tough buckets with his springy legs in the paint. Jarrod West hit two clutch shots – -something he has done his entire career — one a jumper from two-point range to take the lead after being down 17, and another in the back-and-forth that came subsequently. Add to that some great all-around play from Andrew Taylor and you have the makings of a tough team. Tech beat them up inside which does not bode well for the matchup with WKU in the future, however.
Last week: 3rd
4. North Texas 4-4
We have not seen NT against CUSA Competition so we dropped them a bit. Playing the back-to-back is a learning experience and NT has yet to do that thus far so they are behind the learning curve a bit. That said, they learned about themselves in the non-conference loss to Loyola-Chicago. The defense is there and is tough, but the offense gets into some struggle-fests. How will they fare against Charlotte, WKU, or Louisiana Tech and Marshall’s defenses? Based on the talent coming back from last year and the new additions we think they will be okay, but it is hard to know.
Last week: 2nd
5. UAB 7-1
Did not play because of a COVID contact tracing event. Repeat what we said about the learning experience but also note they have not played now in a while. Rust is a worry.
Last week: 4th
6. Charlotte 5-4, 1-1
We praised the 49ers a ton this week but are only moving them up slightly — just the two spots. Why? Well, they had the lead twice (impressive) late and did not hit the shots they needed to hit. Jordan Shepherd did not play as well as they’ll need him to play. The defense was incredible, holding a really good WKU team to a 98 offensive rating over two games. Jahmir Young is a baller. He scored 47 over the two games and hit big shots. Brice Williams was perfect for a long stretch of the first game. Milos Supica hit a couple of huge shots — including one nifty left hander over Bassey late in game two. There is a lot to like here and the hope is that they will spring off this incredible weekend to more quality, consistent performances the rest of the way. There is some concern that this team is one of those that plays to the level of competition — a frustrating one that only beats George Washington by two and then battles with the league’s best the next weekend. We know home court advantage is not that much of a factor in the pandemic but we’d like to see this squad against Marshall and UAB (two good teams that KenPom has them losing to) before we book tickets on the Niner bandwagon. We have the browser tab open, though.
Last week: 8th
7. ODU 5-3, 1-1
The Monarchs were blown off the court in the first game on the road to FIU, then followed that up with a solid win. FIU mostly shot well in the first game and not-so-well in the second. That is the thing with ODU, however, they are steady. Malik Curry was awesome in two games — 15, then 27 — but Xavier Green was bad. He had a team-low 44 offensive rating in the second game (the one they won!). In two games he totaled 8 points on 2/7 shooting. Not great, Bob. FIU is not expected to challenge for the league crown and so while a split is not terrible, especially since it was on the road, it is not great evidence that ODU should be considered the top of the league.
Last week: 6th
8. UTEP 5-3, 1-1
Souley Boum is so smooth with the ball and a great shooter. In a little stretch he hit a smooth lefty layup driving from the left side, and then followed that up with a nice midrange jumper. He is also a killer FT shooter. Jamal Bieniemy was getting into the paint whenever he wanted. UTEP played really well in both games but fell in OT in the first. That had a lot to do with the missed dunks — I roughly counted three at one point — and misses at the rim. Normally we would say that has to do with tough defense inside, but USM was not really forcing those misses. They were just rolling out. Game two saw UTEP dominate from start to end pretty much. Rodney Terry had UTEP doing a great job chasing USM’s LaDavius Draine off the three-point line and he had only 13 points over the two games, and no attempts from three. In fact, the entire USM team shot only 13 threes over the two games. They usually shoot about 20+ a game. That’s great game planning and great execution. There is a lot to like on the Miner squad — good talent (Boum, Bienemy, Bryson Williams) and one OT loss to an athletic team is nothing to obsess about. Still, we cannot rank UTEP higher until we see some more consistent wins.
Last week: 7th
As we said before, this section has major flaws and are not going to threaten the above too much. We did see FIU get a win over ODU so they are candidate for jumping up.
9-14: Rice, FIU, USM, UTSA, Middle, FAU
Rice: The Owls balled out and currently lead the league in offensive efficiency. We knew they could shoot the ball and they did that against a bad defensive team. Travis Evee scored 36 in the first game.
FIU: They got a split against ODU and probably should be bumped out of this section a bit, but it sure looked like one hot-shooting night. Antonio Daye did not play well over two games (he was really bad in the second) and that is not a good omen.
USM: That was a nice little OT win over UTEP, but the second game was a statement by the Miners that the first was a fluke. I like LaDavius Draine but UTEP took him out of both games and he was a no-show in other areas. He did not attempt a three in either game! The Golden Eagles do not have the offensive execution that can free him up for looks, and there is a lot of pointing and reminding each other of the cuts and screens that are supposed to come next. USM shot 5/13 from three over two games. Needless to say that is way under average for attempts from distance. UTEP did a hell of a job game planning.
UTSA: Terrible two game stretch. They played basically 3/4 of one game of good basketball and the rest was terrible offense and the typical matador defense. Rice has a nice little offense but they made them look like Gonzaga out there. This squad plays like a rec league pick up team: one or two one-on-one players and a half-hearted hands-up to defend threes.
Middle/FAU: They did not play because of COVID contact tracing.
Players of The Week, According to CR
- Jahmir Young, Charlotte — 47 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, 4 steals in two games. (including just 3 TOs)
- Taevion Kinsey, Marshall — 41 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists (against just 2 TO)
- Travis Evee, Rice — 46 points, 8 assists — including 10 threes. (36 points in one game)
Players Who Caught My Eye, For One Reason Or Another
- Souley Boum, UTEP — I just liked the way he seems unbothered no matter what his happening. His game is smooth and he can shoot and score with either hand.
- Andrew Taylor, Marshall — he came up big and was always doing something positive for his squad.
- Kenneth Lofton, Tech — He is noticeable for his size, and he just bullied around the slight Marshall front line.
- Keonte Kennedy, UTEP — He caught on rebound and showed the makings of an ice midrange jumper. Then he proceeded to have an anonymous two games.
- Quincy Olivari, Rice — He has had a good season but also did some nice things vs UTSA.
- Dayvion McKnight, WKU — He made some huge plays and looked comfortable as a freshman. So good.